Authors: Jessica Sorensen
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary
Raveling You (Unraveling You, #2)
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2015 by Jessica Sorensen
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The Author holds exclusive rights to this work. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.
No part of this book can be reproduced in any form or by electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without the permission in writing from author. The only exception is by a reviewer who may quote short excerpts in a review.
Cover Design and Photo by Mae I Design
“I think we should get one of the dead ones.” A smile curls at my lips as I pluck a brown pine needle off a tree veering toward eternal death. “Just think about it. We’d be the only ones in the entire neighborhood with a brown Christmas tree. We’d really stand out amongst the masses.”
Ayden’s lips quirk as he flicks a tree branch. “As much as I’d love to let you have your way, I doubt Lila or your mom would be too thrilled if we came home with a fire hazard for a Christmas decoration.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time. One time, Uncle Ethan and my dad brought home this baby pine tree that had hardly any needles after Aunt Lila told them to bring home the cutest Christmas tree they could find.” I tug my beanie lower onto my head and zip my jacket all the way up to my chin. “They thought they were so funny, but she was so mad she threw the tree in the fireplace.”
Even though we live in San Diego, where it never snows, the December air has a nip to it. We’re at a tree lot, trying to figure out which tree is considered “flourishing.” The area smells like forest and pine nuts, and the red and green twinkly lights on the sign and fence glimmer across our faces, evidence that the holidays are spritzed everywhere; trees, yards, streets, stores.
I generally enjoy the spirit of Christmas, but after attending the funeral for Ayden’s brother, Felix, yesterday, this year seems less cheery. Ayden hardly showed any emotion at the graveyard. I held his hand through the eulogy, and he gripped on for dear life, as if the connection was the only thing keeping him on his feet. I tried my best to keep it together for him, to stay upbeat.
“She set the angel tree topper on fire, too,” I continue when Ayden doesn’t crack a smile. “You should have seen how the dress went up in flames. Looked like a little devil toward the end of it.”
“You’re so full of it,” he says with a ghost of a smile. “But thank you.”
His words don’t make me feel any better, since he still appears depressed.
I tip my head up to the night sky and spot a shooting star glimmering across the sky. Under my breath, I utter a wish that Ayden will be able to overcome all of his obstacles. Not just with the passing of his brother, but with his sister not being at the funeral. No one will give him any information about where she is, either. He’s frustrated, although he rarely complains about his hardships—never has.
On top of all of that, he’s dealing with a tremendous amount of pressure from the police to seek therapy to try to restore his memories. He’s conflicted with what he feels is right and wrong; not helping means turning his back on his brother’s memory and helping means facing the demons of his past.
Although he has never flat out told me the specific details of what he can recollect about his time before foster care, I’ve come up with my own speculations, and all are horrible. The homemade tattoo they branded on his flesh tells me how mistreated he was while he was held captive.
“What do you think about this one?” Ayden draws my attention back to him.
He’s standing over by a tall, puffy tree propped against the fence.
I move beside him and angle my chin up to stare at the tip of the towering tree. “It might be a little excessive and will probably barely fit in your living room. Remember how super frustrated Aunt Lila was with Uncle Ethan last year when he brought home that one that was too big for the living room? The top nearly touched the damn ceiling, and there was hardly any room for the angel.”
“Yeah, I forgot about that.” His frown deepens. “I guess you’re right. It’ll probably be better to get a smaller one this year.” His head falls forward, strands of black hair drifting into his dark eyes.
He’s so beautiful and sad, like the haunting portrait my mother painted of her mother’s grave surrounded by black mist and bleeding rose petals. I wanted to cry every time I looked at it. She ended up selling it for a ton of money. Guess people have a thing for depressing and slightly morbid stuff.
I need to cheer him up somehow.
Come on, Lyric. You can do better.
I place my hands on my hips. “All right, dude, what’s with the poutiness?”
He gives me a sidelong glance. “Dude? Are we really going back to that?” A playful tone edges into his voice.
“Um, hello. You will always be my dude, even when we’re super old.” I flash him my pearly whites. “You’ll be all badass—old with a cane and a hunch, but rockin’ your boots and black, studded clothes. And, sometimes, you’ll even smile and make all the ladies in the old folks’ home giggle like they did when they were sixteen. You’ll totally be grandpa dude worthy.”
Laughter escapes his lips. “So, you’re putting me in an old folks' home, huh? Nice to know where I’m headed.”
“Yeah, well, I had to. Your cane was cramping my hot Grandma swagger.”
His lips twitch as a full smile threatens to break through. “Oh, my God. I would love to know how you come up with this shit.”
“No, you wouldn’t.” I put the tip of my two fingers to my temple. “Trust me, you’re way better off not knowing what goes on in here.” When he laughs again, I dare ask, “So, are you going to tell me why you got all sad puppy eyes when I said this tree might not be the way to go?”
“It’s not a big deal.” He skims over the trees then nods his head to a shorter one near the entrance of the tree shop. “We should probably go for one like that.”
I catch his sleeve before he can wander off. “No way. We’re totally getting one of the tall ones.”
“Nah. You were right. They’re too tall.”
“Nope, they’re just right. Besides, Uncle Ethan will make it work, and he’ll love every second doing so. And then we can get me this bad boy,” I point at an equally tall and fluffy tree leaning beside the one Ayden picked out, “so we can be twins.” I waggle my eyebrows at him. “And we both know how much you love being just like me.”
“Yep, it’s my secret wish,” he finally,
jokes back. “In fact, every night when I go to sleep, I look out my window, find a shooting star, and beg it to please let me wake up and be exactly like Lyric.”
“Ha, ha.” I aim a finger at him and force a falsetto laugh. “I knew it.”
“You are such a weirdo.” He’s totally smiling a big, ol’ grin from ear to ear.
“Yeah, but a weirdo that you’re so in love with.” As soon as I say it, I instantly want to retract it.
Ayden massages the back of his neck tensely, looking everywhere except at me.
Can you say awkward?
It used to not be this complicated between us, but that was before the kissing and touching in my car. Since then, stuff between us has gotten slightly uncomfortable if certain subjects come up, like love.
I don’t feel bad about it at all, though. Ayden doesn’t even tell the Gregorys he loves them. I honestly don’t think he can say that word and mean it, not yet anyway. There are several things he can’t do, like allow anyone to touch him more intimately than holding a hand or a hug. While we have kissed twice, our lip-locking has come to a grinding halt ever since his brother’s death. He’s not cold toward me—he cuddles and holds my hand more than he used to. I think his brother’s mysterious death has messed with his mind, though, because that dark place he forgot about for over three years is trying to reenter his life.
“Okay, this weirdo right here is getting hungry.” I rub my tummy. “So, how about we load up these lovely trees and stop to get a burger on the way home before I starve to death?”
“Fine, but only if you let me pay this time.” He relaxes and so do I. “You always pay.”
I link arms with him. “Okay, I’ll let you pretend to be the man for tonight.” When his lips tug upward, I press on, “Man, I’m so funny. What would you do without me?”
He stares at me, dead serious. “I honestly have no idea.” With a sigh, he wiggles his arm from mine and gently drapes it over my shoulder. A simple gesture but out of the ordinary for him. “Come on. Let’s go pay for the trees and get you your burger so we can get back. Otherwise, we’ll be late for band practice.”
We pay for the trees and load them in the back of my Uncle Ethan’s truck, who really isn’t my uncle, not by blood anyway. Uncle Ethan and Aunt Lila are just close to my parents, best friends to be exact. I’ve known them since I was born and sometimes call them aunt and uncle.
Once we hop into the cab and pull out onto the road, Ayden turns on the radio, flipping on some Brand New. I’ve learned over the last year of our friendship that his music choices portray how he feels. Tonight, he’s stuck in his own head. I’d ask him what he’s thinking about, but I know him well enough to understand he more than likely won’t tell me.
The Christmas tree shop is about a ten-minute drive from our neighborhood, so after we pick up some takeout, we still arrive home with a decent amount of time to spare before we have to leave for band practice.
The moon is a glowing orb and the stars sprinkle like pixie dust across the sky. A scenic night to be decorating the house, which is exactly what Uncle Ethan is doing when we pull up.
“What’s with the inflatable Santa?” Ayden nods at Ethan who’s inflating a massive Santa near the border of where our properties meet. “Last year, he put it that close to your house, too.”
“It’s because my dad’s afraid of them.” I unbuckle my seatbelt. “I guess he got stuck under one during a teenage prank gone wrong. Every year, Uncle Ethan puts it up to torture him. They’re so crazy and weird, maybe weirder than me.”
“Yeah, but it’s nice, I guess. To have Christmas traditions like that, something you guys have done for years.” He silences the engine and unfastens his seatbelt.
Suddenly, his deal with the big tree makes sense. He wants to keep tradition by getting a large one like the Gregorys did last year during his first Christmas with the family. He was so quiet back then, and I was awkward, pushing him out of his comfort zone. I wanted so much for him to be my friend. This year, I want him to be more than that. But with what he’s going through, I can’t expect anything more than friendship.
“You know, my mom is having one of her holiday art shows like she did last year on New Year’s Eve,” I tell Ayden as I open the door to get out. “We could go again, but this time we can try sneaking off with a few glasses of eggnog. Get buzzed. Add to the tradition.”
“I thought you were going to go to that party with Sage?” Ayden’s brow arches as he glances at me. “That one Maggie invited you guys to.”
Sage is the drummer of our band. With his blue-dyed hair, multiple piercings, and tattoos, he fits the part of what most people think a drummer should look like. After two months of jamming with him, I’m still deciding if he’s a walking cliché or just an expressive person.
“Well, she invited you, too, silly. But I think the art show would end up being more fun. Besides, parties still make me uneasy. And I could very well run into William there.”
William is the guy who assaulted me and attempted to rape me at a party a few months ago. Thankfully, I was able to get away before he got too far, but the thought of being near him makes me uneasy.
“You shouldn’t worry about running into him,” Ayden says. “
the one who should be worried, not you.”
“I know, but unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. I saw him at school after he did his community service. The douche had the nerve to grin at me.”
“I want to punch him in the face,” Ayden growls through gritted teeth, gripping onto the steering wheel, his knuckles turning white.
“You already did that.” I gently touch his arm, hoping to calm him down. “We just need to move on now. Stewing in what he did only gives him more power.”
“You got that from my therapist.”
“Yeah. He said that to me when I went to visit him.”
I went to one therapy session after what happened with William, mainly because my parents needed to know my head was okay. Talking about what happened was therapeutic, but not enough for me go to weekly visits like Ayden does.
“So, what do you say?” I ask, clasping my hands in front of me. “Does an art show sound New Year’s Eve worthy? Pretty please, say yes.”